Op-Ed By Binjal Shah
AAP made an ad to blow its own trumpet, and I have some bones to pick with this surprisingly careless advertiser.
The ad was so pedestrian and simplistic, it offended our collective sensibilities. We were subjected to cliches we had stopped buying in the 90s. If it hadn’t been for (much too) frequent insertions of the phrase “Hamara Kejriwal”, I would have taken it for a banal teleshopping ad, and dismissed it’s old and rusty phoney-testimonial approach to advertising - but these are issues for another day and news portal.
Is the depiction as a house wife, anti-feminism?
Let’s talk about whether it was sexist. It was. But, tot in the blood-curdling I-want-to-murder-that-entire-Television-family kind of manner. Not how it was made out to be. And certainly not for the reasons the world is calling it sexist for.
What wasn’t really sexist:
The ad shows a quintessential middle-class household with a supertronic-mutant-human-woman at its helm – who somehow manages to do it all. In her incessant drone of a monologue that ran throughout the ad, she complained about how the electricity bills had been flying off the roof, until the Kejriwal government swooped in, reduced corruption, and transferred the cost benefit on to the electricity.
All this, while she sweated in agonising stress all over her son, her food and her bitter gourd.
While the whole ad reeked of the 90s, and not in a good way, most of the critiquing folk on the internet found this part of it sexist- the depiction of a woman as a housewife. Trying to call this out in the name of feminism, thinking only a working woman can be an empowered woman.
This happens to be a rookie mistake that most people “passing around the torch of feminist empowerment” make: Feminism is about letting a woman do anything she pleases. In the ad, she didn’t complain once about the fact that she is a home-maker, she was simply flustered by the electricity bills that they couldn’t keep up with.
Feminism is about letting a woman do anything she pleases
Hence, going by the evidence within the frame of the video theory again- if the woman behind the screen is happy with her life, the women in front of it have no reason to read out her rights to her.
And what WAS Sexist:
The one thing that was undisputedly sexist, was the role the husband played in the video- or rather, the lack of it thereof. While the woman couldn’t spring out 8 arms like an actual goddess to attend to everything on her plate and seemed to have permanent lines of worry on her forehead thanks to her to-do-list and that “monstrous electricity bill” that we never heard the end of, her husband’s role depicted that the only reason why he was put on this planet was to sip on his tea while reading the newspaper.
This reinforces all the wrong gender roles, and everything we have been trying to fight all these years. A man not helping out around a house because he is beyond all these responsibilities of mortals (which is what the smug and apathetic look on the husband’s face implied), is a message you do NOT want to give out, especially not as a national political party in power in the country’s capital. Aside from being a regressive and warped representation of the status-quo, it colors the party’s ideology in the same way- making it look like these are the ideals they endorse. Toxic, costly error. And poor, poor attention to detail.
Chicken and Egg Situation:
This brings us back to the whole chicken and egg situation between the media and the society. What influences what? Some might argue that this ad is only telling it like it is, and That it mirrors the society. It is only building a narrative using a visual situation most people can relate to.
On the contrary, another camp might argue that by portraying things the way they are, they are reinforcing stereotypes that need to be on their way out already. This cycle, as well as the blame-game goes on.
But as the opinion leaders and chosen representatives of our society, one would like to see them step-up to the plate, break the cycle and put out content more responsibly. Especially since we do see companies using their advertisement and influence as a tool for social change, it would sure as hell be utopian for every advertiser to follow suite and do their bit.
However, since both entities work hand-in-hand, it is difficult to put the onus upon one entirely.
What was Slightly Annoying to me:
The bit that rubbed me the wrong way especially, was where the ad resorted to the age-old trope of depicting a damsel-in-distress, to feed its audiences’ ego. What’s more, the analogy was complete with a knight (not lady, knight) in shining armor coming to her rescue, riding on an white, err- metro.
This power-relation causes more damage than one would imagine, as it reinstates and reasserts the need of a male presence to rescue a woman from her own problems – in this case – her poverty.
Why This Feels Like a Conspiracy:
Considering the above things, there is no denying that the ad was sexist in parts. Mostly medieval, outdated, but also overtly sexist. However, it didn’t warrant being singled out and pointed fingers at. For starters, this ad is just as sexist and offensive as the next one, and the one after that. If you have contentions to raise with the portrayal of a woman as a housewife, you will find that almost 80 percent of the ads floating on our TV screens show families functioning the exact same way. If a Maggi ad could show Madhuri Dixit waking up an hour earlier than her family, prancing around with them in a draining exercise-sesh, and then putting their breakfast on the table full of ungrateful brats (wanting tasty food, kids that they are), it only shows that Indian advertising as a whole needs to face the music and be called out.
AAP is definitely undergoing an increased scrutiny – and increased scrutiny is awesome. I wish to see every other ad subjected to this level of dissection, though. I hope criticising this AAP ad doesn’t simply become an example or an empty warning, but instead – acts like a fallen domino.